A few years back, I taught Girls Phys Ed for a couple of weeks. I was supposed to teach the course for a bit longer, but my class schedule had to be changed (I was very disappointed). In the time that I spent with the girls, I was encouraging the class to be super excited about running the Ottawa Run Weekend 5K as the class final task. We also talked about why healthy living was important and how we were going to try to make phys ed fun – so that life-long healthy living, which includes regular exercise, is thought of as fun and enjoyable, not necessarily hard work. Although I ended up having to teach grade 12 law instead, I still ended up running the 5K race with the girls in May.
A program was recently brought to my attention that inspires girls to be healthy and confident using experience-based curriculum that involves running! Girls on the Run Ontario offers programs for girls in grades 3-8. The program is offered both as an after school program run by parents and teachers, and as a public program for girls whose schools do not offer the program (currently available only in Toronto and Ottawa). There are two main programs: Girls on the Run for girls in grades 3-5 and Girls on Track for grades 6-8. Both programs are 10 weeks long in length and focus on a variety of topics focusing on positive emotional, social, mental and physical development.
The Girls on the Run program was started by Molly Barker. Molly’s experiences growing up prompted her to start Girls on the Run so that she could help girls stay out of the “girl box” – a place where girls go to around the age of 8 when they believe that society is viewing them and judging them based on their external beauty, and not the amazing, fantastic beautiful people they are on the inside. Being in the “girl box” means that girls start to change to try and fit into society’s requirements, but often struggle to keep up and as a result, feelings of low/no self esteem and low self worth start to arise. Rina De Donato, CEO of Girls on the Run, explains that “We need to reach our girls at an age where they are receptive to positive messages that say – you are beautiful just the way you are – you don’t need to change for anyone – believe in yourself and celebrate who you are”.
As a secondary school teacher, I see many students struggle with self-esteem on a daily basis. I also see female students struggle with doing certain “unhealthy activities” because it is what everyone else is doing and they feel that they have to take part otherwise they would feel like an outcast. I noticed one student the other day wearing an Ottawa Lions (a track and field club) t-shirt and I asked if she used to participate in a program. She said that she did as a kid, laughed and said that she could barely run up the stairs now due to being inactive and a smoking habit.
So why running? Running is believed to be a great outlet and builds self esteem. The girls do not necessarily need to be athletes, but rather they choose their own goals to achieve; whether they run, walk or do a combo of both. Also, this is not just a program to teach girls how to run, there is much more involved. As Rina explains “Our curriculum deals with the “whole-person” addressing the mental, social, physical and emotional needs of each child. As they go through the program and get stronger physically and mentally (self-confidence, endurance, etc.) they start to believe that if they put their mind to something and work hard they can achieve it”.
When I was a child, there were no smart phones, computers with internet and video games were just coming out. We played outside quite a bit and were fairly active. Today, there are more distractions and there are thoughts that children are simply not as active as they used to be. Encouraging girls to be active will only help them continue to want to be active in the long run. Girls are also being continuously exposed to media that says that a perfect woman has great hair, a flawless complexion and super skinny. It is not just TV commercials anymore – but the internet too. It is hard to get away from it sometimes. That coupled with the “bad choices” that teens are exposed to means that it can be easy for a young girl to fall into troubled territory and do things that are not necessarily good for one’s body. Girls on the Run helps encourage girls to see their potential and face challenges that can arise.
The results of the girls enrolled in the programs are more than just being able to run a 5K race. Many of the coaches involved are teachers and parents and notice that the girls are putting their hands up more to answer questions, joining social groups and being involved in the community. As they continue through school, some of the girls start joining school and community sports teams and/or continue with running as a hobby. Rina states that many of the girls come into the program as non-runners, but leave loving physical activity. I think it is a great idea for girls to enjoy participating in physical activity, especially in a group. I believe that it will set the tone for life long physical fitness, which has its benefits of course!
In Ottawa, there is a community program available. There are two locations: Hunt Club at the Flavour Factory Urban Dance School and Manor Park at the Manor Park Community Centre. Both programs start in April. Some fun news: the girls will be participating in Emilie’s Run: which is on my race schedule for this year. Emilie’s Run is an all-female race in memory of Emilie Mondor, a female Olympian runner who was killed in an auto accident in 2006. It will be great to see the girls running in the race, and I look forward to running with them on June 22nd.
Girls on the Run are looking for some volunteers. Although they have found all the coaches for this year’s sessions, they are still in need of pre-event and day of help for the big race. If you are interested in volunteering, please click HERE and fill out the volunteer form. I know some of you are interested in being a volunteer at a race – this is a great option!
If you know a girl in grades 3-8 who may be interested in participating in a Girls on the Run Program, check out the website.
Did you participate in sports when you were in elementary school?
Are you running Emilie’s Run with us?